Famous as a New York Times literary critic, an International Herald Tribune columnist, and a Time magazine foreign correspondent, he is also known for his full-length published works on the subject of China, two of which being designated New York Times Notable Books.
After earning a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Connecticut, he received a master's degree in East Asian Languages from Harvard.
In the late 1970s, he established the first Chinese office of Time magazine.
Though he was born in New York City, he grew up primarily on an East Haddam, Connecticut farm. He later settled in his birth city with his wife, Chinese dancer Zhongmei Li.
He and fellow American journalist Edgar Snow both became known as experts on China.